AUTHOR: Corey Hannahs

House under construction

5 Key Considerations for Single Family Residential Electrical Services Based on the 2020 NEC

For those who regularly install single-family residential electrical services, the work can often seem repetitive. Resulting in a step-by-step process that leaves many with the impression that they can do the work in their sleep. And many likely could. Then there are those who do not have much experience with residential electrical services and are trying to navigate the basics of what goes into a typical installation.Whatever side of the coin you fall on, this blog has something for you.While some of the items mentioned here are long standing NFPA 70, National Electrical Code® (NEC®) codes and processes, there are a couple changes within the 2020 NEC that will modify how residential electrical services will be installed moving forward. Pre-Installation Considerations   Many residential electrical services need questions answered prior to being able to do the installation. Some residential electrical services are pre-designed and have the information already available for you. For example, in custom home scenarios, it is common to have to gather information up front from the builder and/or homeowner. The equipment being installed within the home may be minimal or it may be extravagant, but the electrical needs of both will need to be met accordingly.  The size of the home and the equipment loads will have a direct impact on the overall size of the electrical service.  As another example, if you are working in a tract home development, the builder has likely already pre-determined many items you would normally need to determine yourself before installation, like what size electrical service you need to install and where the electrical panel will be located.  They may have already spelled out that each home within the entire development will receive a 150-amp electrical service, with the electrical panel installed in the garage, and utilizing aluminum service-entrance conductors.  While there is not enough time to elaborate on a full electrical service calculation here, subscribers of NFPA LiNK™ can access a full single-family residential service calculation within NFPA DiRECT™ that will walk you through the step-by-step process.     Once the legwork has been completed to come up with the electrical service size, and the desired location for some of the service equipment such as the electrical panel and meter, our next conversation needs to take place with the utility or power company (POCO). While many POCO’s operate differently, it is fairly common for them to give you information like whether the home will have power fed overhead or underground, or if you are given the option to choose.  They will also confirm that the desired meter location will work for what they need.  In a tract home scenario, the builder and POCO have likely already discussed these items and have a plan in place.  However, in a scenario where there is a single custom home being built on a 10-acre parcel, having this conversation with the POCO becomes even more crucial to the process and helps to avoid any hiccups.  For example, based on rights-of-way that the utility has available to them, they may only be able to bring the power into one specific corner of the home.  If the meter gets mounted on the opposite corner of the home, the POCO may not provide power until it is relocated. Having the right conversations to gather the correct information, well before any screwdriver gets turned to install any equipment, is key to any successful project.   Service Equipment Considerations   The initial conversations before installation should provide some critical information, such as: where the meter and electrical panel need to be installed, if the electrical service will be fed overhead, or underground, etc. In some installation areas, the meter and electrical panel will be installed on the outside of the home in the exact same location. Within this scenario, it will also have your main service disconnect for the power into the home located at this spot. If the panel is going to be located within the home, that can have an impact on how things need to be done per the NEC.   Where the electrical panel is installed within the home has a direct correlation to the NEC requirements for a main service disconnect.  Per 2020 NEC section 230.70, a service disconnect is required to be installed for a building on the exterior of the building or inside nearest the point of entrance of the service conductors. In cases where the service entrance conductors leave the meter, penetrate the home, and go directly into the electrical panel, the main breaker within the electrical panel often serves as the main service disconnect required by 230.70. Where the service entrance conductors penetrate the home and do not terminate directly into the electrical panel, a main service disconnect mounted on the exterior of the home, prior to the service conductors entering the home, is necessary.     Based on a change that was incorporated into the 2020 NEC, an emergency disconnect is now required per section 230.85.  This disconnect is intended to give first responders the ability to shut down power to the entire home before entering to address the emergency.  The NEC requires that the disconnect be installed outdoors in a readily accessible location and that it be identified as the emergency disconnect. In the previously mentioned scenarios where the main disconnect was installed outdoors within the electrical panel or in a service disconnect installed due to the distance the service entrance conductors run into the building, it will just be a matter of changing how the service disconnect is marked.  It would need to be marked as an “EMERGENCY DISCONNECT, SERVICE DISCONNECT” or, if more applicable, one of the other two marking options listed in section 230.85.  For an installation where the service conductors leave the meter, penetrate the home, and go directly into the electrical panel, an exterior emergency disconnect would now be required to be installed for the home.  Section 230.85 requires an emergency disconnect to be installed for all new electrical services as well as when an electrical service is modified or upgraded.   The 2020 NEC cycle had an additional change that will impact residential electrical service installations.  New section 230.67 requires all dwelling unit electrical services to have a surge protective device (SPD) installed.  The SPD must be integral with the service equipment, or mounted directly adjacent to the service equipment, and must be a Type 1 or Type 2 SPD.  Many manufacturers are now offering residential electrical panels with built-in SPD to help meet this new code requirement. Similar to the emergency disconnect requirement, this SPD requirement applies to both new services as well as services that are modified or upgraded.   Wiring Considerations   While some items discussed in this blog are new to residential electrical services, there are many that stay tried and true.  For example, sizing of service entrance conductors and conduit as well as sizing grounding and bonding conductors stay consistent with the way they have been done in the NEC for some time now.  To review those requirements, the scenario below will be used to elaborate on each area.   Scenario: 200-amp, 120/240-volt, single-phase, 3-wire electrical service with Type THWN copper service entrance conductors installed in Schedule 40 PVC conduit and a copper grounding electrode conductor and copper bonding wires.   In order to size our service entrance conductors properly, we turn to Table 310.12 which addresses wire size for single-phase dwelling services and feeders.  Using the scenario information that we have a 200-amp electrical service and are utilizing copper conductors; we determine that our service entrance conductors for this electrical service will need to be 2/0 AWG copper THWN conductors.   Service Entrance Conductors Size: 2/0 AWG copper THWN conductors   Knowing that we have a 3-wire electrical service consisting of (2) ungrounded (hot) conductors and (1) grounded (neutral) conductor, we look to Annex C – Table C.11 which covers installations using Schedule 40 PVC conduit. Using Table C.11, we determine that in order to fit our (3) 2/0 AWG copper THWN conductors into one conduit, we will need a minimum size of 1 ½” Schedule 40 PVC conduit.   Conduit Size: 1 ½” Schedule 40 PVC conduit   Grounding Electrode System Considerations The grounding electrode system in electrical services creates a common connection between electrical equipment, grounding electrodes that are present and/or required, and the earth so as they are at the same relative potential. This helps to stabilize voltage on the system and limit the voltage that can be imposed on the system by lightning strikes and other potential surges. NEC section 250.50 states that all grounding electrodes listed in 250.52(A)(1) through 250.52(A)(7) that are present in the building or structure must be bonded together to form the grounding electrode system. The following are grounding electrodes, some with specific requirements, that are permitted by the NEC for grounding:  Metal underground water pipes Structural steel Concrete-encased electrodes (often referenced as “UFER ground” in the field) Ground rings Rod and pipe electrodes Plate electrodes Other listed grounding electrodes In most residential applications, the more common grounding electrodes that are incorporated into the grounding electrode system are the concrete-encased electrode (UFER), rod electrodes (ground rods), and metal water pipe, although this is becoming less common due to more use of plastic piping in lieu of metal for water supplies. NEC Table 250.66 is utilized for determining what size wire we need to use for our grounding electrode conductor, based upon the largest ungrounded (hot) service entrance conductor.  With us determining previously that our service entrance conductor will be size 2/0 AWG copper THWN conductors and that the scenario also stated that the grounding electrode conductor should be copper, we can now use Table 250.66 to determine that we will use a #4 AWG copper grounding electrode conductor for this electrical service.  The one caveat being the grounding electrode conductor that is ran to the ground rods is not required to be larger than #6 AWG copper. All other grounding electrode conductor connections, such as to the metal water pipe and to the concrete-encased electrode, will need to be sized as the #4 AWG copper required in Table 250.66.   Grounding Electrode Conductor Size: #4 AWG copper conductor* *Except to ground rods which can be a #6 AWG copper   Bonding Considerations   By definition, bonding means connected to establish electrical continuity and conductivity. Unlike grounding, which intends to establish a ground connection, such as to earth, bonding connects all metallic parts on the system which have the potential to become energized. Building systems, such as metal water and gas piping, are required to be bonded per the NEC. Other systems, such as community antenna television (CATV), are required by the NEC to be bonded through an intersystem bonding termination (IBT) device. Bonding all the systems together helps to minimize the potential difference between systems.   The metal water piping connection that may have been made as part of the grounding electrode system is not the same requirement as listed in section 250.104(A), which requires the metal water piping system to be bonded. Again, one is dealing with grounding and one is dealing with bonding.  Based on section 250.104(A), the conductor for bonding must be sized in accordance with Table 250.102(C)(1) although it is never required to be larger than 3/0 AWG copper. Based on our 2/0 AWG copper service entrance conductors and our scenario stating that our bond wires would also be copper, we can utilize Table 250.102(C)(1) and determine we need a #4 AWG copper bonding wire for the metal water piping.  Also of note, section 250.24(B) requires a main bonding jumper, for grounded systems, that connects the equipment grounding conductor to the grounded (neutral) conductor at the service disconnecting means.  Typically, this main bonding jumper is provided by the manufacturer along with residential panels in the form of a screw or strap that bonds the grounded (neutral) bar to the enclosure when inserted properly.  If that main bonding jumper were not to be provided, and the NEC is needed to find the correct size, section 250.28(D)(1) tells us that Table 250.102(C)(1) would also be used to size the main bonding jumper.   Metal Water Piping and Main Bonding Jumper* Size: #4 AWG copper conductor *If the main bonding jumper is not provided with the panel.   NEC section 250.104(B) states that “other” metal piping, such as gas piping, must also be bonded.  That bonding is to be done per Table 250.122.  What is different about table 250.122 versus the other tables we have been using is that it is based on the rating of the overcurrent device, often a circuit breaker of fuse, that is ahead of the circuit that could cause the system to become energized.  The problem with scenarios like gas piping bonding is that we may not necessarily know what circuit could potentially energize it as the gas piping could be routed throughout the home and could be energized by any size feeder or branch circuit.  However, in our scenario, the largest overcurrent device we would ever have to assume could energize the gas piping would be the 200-amp main breaker, since the is the largest circuit within the home.  So, if we utilize Table 250.122 to determine the copper bond wire size we need for the gas piping bond, based on the 200-amp overcurrent device, we would select #6 AWG copper wire.  Keep in mind that this # 6 AWG copper wire is the minimum size wire we need.  For example, if there is already a roll of #4 AWG copper wire on the truck to take care of the water bond, there is no reason that that same #4 AWG copper wire could be utilized for the gas piping bond, since #4 AWG is larger than #6 AWG wire.   Metal Gas Piping Bonding Size: #6 AWG copper conductor   The last area of bonding residential services to cover is the bonding of communication systems as listed in section 250.94. Other systems, such as community antenna television (CATV), are required by the NEC to be bonded through an intersystem bonding termination (IBT) device. Again, bonding all of the systems together helps to minimize the potential difference between systems. Based on section 250.94(A), any IBT that is used must meet the following criteria: Be accessible for connection and inspection. Consist of a set of terminals with the capacity for connection of not less than three intersystem bonding conductors. Not interfere with opening the enclosure for a service, building or structure disconnecting means, or metering equipment. At the service equipment, be securely mounted and electrically connected to an enclosure for the service equipment, to the meter enclosure, or to an exposed nonflexible metallic service raceway, or be mounted at one of these enclosures and be connected to the enclosure or to the grounding electrode conductor with a minimum 6 AWG copper conductor. At the disconnecting means for a building or structure, be securely mounted and electrically connected to the metallic enclosure for the building or structure disconnecting means, or be mounted at the disconnecting means and be connected to the metallic enclosure or to the grounding electrode conductor with a minimum 6 AWG copper conductor. The terminals shall be listed as grounding and bonding equipment. In conclusion, there are many consistent ways in which residential electrical services continue to be installed. Based on the ever-changing need to continually make the world a safer place, there are also changes that happen within the NEC to incorporate those needs. This blog intends to give you the most up-to-date information based on the 2020 NEC, however, it is not intended to serve as a consultation or installation instructions for any given scenario.  Electrical work should always be done by professional electricians who know the local code requirements. Those same electricians also have established relationships with the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) in that area where they can reach out and get clarification if needed.  It takes all stakeholders working together to keep this electrified world a safer place for all people and property. The visual content included in this blog is from NFPA LiNK™, your custom on-demand code knowledge tool, brought to you by NFPA. Find out more about NFPA LiNK™, and sign up for your free trial, here: www.nfpa.org/LiNK Important Notice: This correspondence is neither intended, nor should it be relied upon, to provide professional consultation or services.
Someone giving a gift

Choose the Gift of Electrical Safety This Holiday Season

“It's the most wonderful time, of the yearrrr…” Although I know I can’t carry a tune like Andy Williams, singing along to Christmas carols around the home, or in my car, brings me a lot of joy and helps to bring the Christmas spirit to life for me. Giving is in abundance this time of year, not only through physical presents, but also through helping others in need. My favorite gift to give this time of year is one we give as a family, by adopting another family in need. There isn’t anything that brings me more enjoyment in life than helping others. That’s why I would like to help those who are reading this blog by suggesting a holiday gift they can give their own families – the Gift of Electrical Safety. I know what you're thinking, “How can Electrical Safety be considered a gift?” For those who don't quite see that yet, let me explain further. This gift isn't typical. It does not come with a gift receipt and you can't return it. You either accept it, or you don't. It is, however, a “one size fits all” kind of present. When accepted, this gift continues to keep on giving, mostly in the form of arriving home daily after work, kissing your spouse, and receiving those amazing “Mommy's home!” or “Daddy's home!” hugs from your children. You know - the things that matter most to you. Being able to work daily in and around electricity in a safe manner allows us and our coworkers to return home unharmed to our loved ones at the end of every shift. It is my personal belief that safety can only happen with three key components all working together in unison: knowledge, application, and responsibility (KAR) Knowledge is provided through adequate training. Application comes through applying the training that was received and following a well-designed Electrical Safety Program (ESP). So, who is responsible for driving the KAR down Electric Avenue (go ahead and sing it, I know you want to) everyday? Both employers and employees have a shared responsibility to one another for ensuring workplace safety:   Knowledge - Employers must provide, at minimum, the training required for the employee to do their job safely. Employees must accept, and fully understand, the training provided. Employers and employees should work together to create an ESP that meets the needs of the job and is fully understood by all parties.  Application – Employees must apply the knowledge that they have received and the ESP to their everyday tasks without taking shortcuts or skipping processes. If job tasks or conditions change where employees recognize they don't have proper training to do the job safely, or is not defined within the ESP, they must speak up to their employer and get proper training before doing the task.  Responsibility – Employers and employees have a shared accountability to one another. Employers must provide the training necessary, develop an ESP for employees to follow, continually listen to employee concerns and, when necessary, be willing to sacrifice profits for safety. Employees must apply their knowledge and training every day, without taking shortcuts, as well as speak up when they do not have proper training or understanding. If either party fails to provide or follow these guidelines, the safety of all will be lost.  The KAR acronym and associated thoughts behind it are mine and mine alone. They are by no means implied to be anything other than a mechanism that I have found to help me personally understand over the past 25-plus years what's necessary for electrical safety to work.  Employers should seek out training and workplace guidelines from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements and recognized industry standards such as NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®. The purpose of NFPA 70E is to provide a practical safe working area for employees relative to the hazards arising from the use of electricity. It is an internationally accepted American National Standard that provides safety policies, procedures, and process controls for installation as well as maintenance. Article 110 of NFPA 70E also offers insight into the critical components of a well-designed, effective ESP. While not typically adopted legislatively, NFPA 70E is utilized by employers to help fulfill OSHA obligations and as a means to ensure the safety of the businesses most valued asset, their employees. Although what drives it may change, few people ever lose the wonder and excitement that go along with Christmas morning. As children, we live for waking up way earlier than we typically would to run down the stairs and see what Santa has placed under the tree. As parents, our pleasure comes from seeing the joy on the faces of our children. If safety is the gift, then NFPA 70E is the beautiful wrapping and bow that make it a gift. Without it, it's just a box. NFPA 70E makes electrical workplace safety what it is. And why does giving the Gift of Electrical Safety matter? Because of the things that matter the most to you. Learn about NFPA 70E and more on NFPA's Electrical Solutions webpage.
Family Thanksgiving dinner

Following Simple Home Electrical Safety Tips Keeps the Focus on Family at Thanksgiving

November is likely my favorite month of the year. Aside from it being my birthday month, I love the crisp air, falling leaves, and watching college football games that impact championships. And I still have hope (albeit small) every year that my beloved Michigan Wolverines will be able to overcome those darn Ohio State Buckeyes! But the main reason I cherish November so much is the intentional reflection on all that we have been given in our lives and what we have to be thankful for. At the forefront of my list is always my family. Not only my wife and our four children, but our extended family and friends that have become like family to us. Life can be challenging at times, but we all have something to be grateful for - even if that is only our next breath. I forgot to mention that November also consists of two of my other favorite things – food and stretchy pants. Not necessarily placed in any particular order because both items are equally dependent on one another. If your kitchen is anything like ours while preparing the cherished Thanksgiving feast, it resembles chaos more than tranquility. Oven space is at a premium, so we turn to electric roaster ovens, hot plates, and Crockpots. Every new family member that arrives at the door has a Crockpot in their hands looking for a place to plug-in, which often leads to extension cords and multi-outlet splitters. As a general rule of thumb, any appliance that is intended to heat food draws a decent amount of electricity. When you start to add a multitude of appliances that produce heat, it can quickly wreak havoc on your electrical system. Not just in the form of overloaded, tripping circuit breakers but also on the components being utilized as well. Depending on what is being plugged in and where, it could also pose a risk to the personal safety of those within the vicinity. Here are a few items to be conscientious of that may help you to be safer and have a smoother transition from multiple food helpings to your post-meal nap: Appliances that are utilized to provide heat draw a sizable amount of electricity. For example, typical roaster ovens draw 10-12 amps, hot plates draw 8-12 amps, and Crockpots draw 2-6 amps. Kitchen 120-volt circuits are required by the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) to be 20 amp rated so it would only take a couple of these appliances to overload the maximum circuit ampacity. The NEC also requires that each residential kitchen has at least two 20-amp 120-volt circuits. One suggestion is to determine which kitchen plugs are on what circuit, and split the appliances up accordingly. Extension cords and multi-outlet splitters are never a good idea in the kitchen. Aside from electrical hazards, they also provide tripping hazards and can hang off of counters where a child may be able to grab ahold and pull an appliance down on themselves. In reality, some will still be willing to take those risks. At minimum, how extension cords and multi-outlet splitters are utilized should be considered. These items are easier to overload than electrical circuit wiring and do not offer overcurrent protection to trip and tell you they are overloaded, like an electrical circuit does. A standard light duty extension cord is typically rated around 13 amps. Plugged into a 20-amp circuit, that extension cord could be well overloaded without the circuit ever tripping, which would add another dimension of safety concerns to the equation – fire. Ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) protection should always be utilized for any appliances operated or placed on kitchen countertops. The NEC requires that any kitchen receptacles that are installed to serve the countertop have GFCI protection. That may not be the case for an adjacent room or area where an extension cord could get routed to the kitchen. Not having the necessary GFCI protection is another reason to not utilize that extension cord. GFCI receptacles should also be tested to ensure they are working properly before each use. Thanksgiving in our home is a routine that I love. Minimizing risk when it comes to electrical safety is necessary to allow us to focus on spending time with one another without interruption or injury, giving us an opportunity to give thanks for the many blessings we have received in our lives.   “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” - Epictetus   NFPA is passionate about electrical safety and offers additional tips and resources for consumers to learn more about the topic.             
A group of electrical apprentices

8 Electrical Apprenticeship Tips for Success Highlighted During National Apprenticeship Week

Throughout my career, hindsight has always proven to be 20/20. It is easy to look back and see what could have been done differently that likely would have resulted in a better outcome. But I have also learned that failure is important. Getting knocked down allows you to prove to yourself that you can get back up, even when it seems impossible. Failure provides you an opportunity to learn from your mistakes that leads to your ultimate success. Sir Winston Churchill said it best when he summarized “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” The thirty years since I started my electrical apprenticeship have absolutely flown by, but it feels like it was yesterday that I just started. It has been extremely fulfilling and led me to places that I never thought I would have an opportunity to go. With National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) being right around the corner, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the course of my career. Knowing what I know now, what suggestions would I give to an electrical apprentice who is just starting out in the industry? Here’s what I see as most important to help lead a new apprentice to success: Never ask if the power is off – test it yourself to find out. One of your first purchases should be a reliable set of electrical testers. Buy them, maintain them, and USE THEM! You will find yourself asking others if the power is off on a circuit that you need to work on – DON’T! Testing for power yourself is the only way of knowing 100% that it is off and safe to work on. Also ensure that you lock out and tag out the circuit properly to ensure power does not get turned back on until you are ready to have it turned back on. Doing so could literally be the determining factor of whether you live to see tomorrow. Learn the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) AND NFPA 70E® Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®. Most of my apprenticeship training focused on the NEC and I didn’t really start to delve into NFPA 70E until later in my career. In full transparency, I have worked more in 70E in my time here at NFPA than I ever did in my time working in the field. That just should not have been the case. While the NEC teaches us how to perform a safe installation, NFPA 70E teaches us how to be safe while doing so. You can’t have one without the other. Frankly, if you don’t learn and incorporate 70E into your daily work practices, you may not be here tomorrow to perform a safe installation. Work hard and be a sponge. Hard work is a requirement for success in any career, so I don’t need to elaborate there. By being a sponge, I mean soak up any knowledge that people are willing to offer. Many industry professionals have been doing this a long time and have much information to offer, if you’re willing to listen. Give them your full attention and ask “why” a lot. As you are entering the industry, many with this valuable experience are on their way out. It is critical to your own personal success, and that of the industry as a whole, that you capture as much of their knowledge as possible before they retire. Share your knowledge. It’s inevitable that the student one day becomes the teacher, especially in the electrical industry. When your time as the teacher comes, I implore you to embrace it and share your knowledge with the next generation. Remember yourself as the person who asked “why” a lot and was overly eager to learn, and find patience as you transfer your valuable knowledge to the next ones in line. Keep in mind that these individuals will likely work with you for many years to come, so the better you train them, it will also benefit you. Chase appreciation and respect, not the dollar. It is human nature to want to receive the most money for the job you are doing. But also understand that there is value in things outside of simple currency. How an employer shows appreciation and respect for employees matters. Are they requiring you to do things that pose a risk to your personal safety? Do they continue to assist with your personal development and growth? Do they care that you have a proper work and life balance? It is likely that someone will always be willing to pay you a bit more money, but be sure you analyze the value in everything, not just that which is tangible, before heading for perceived greener pastures. Don’t burn bridges. If you choose to leave an employer, regardless of personal feelings, choose wisely as to how you handle your departure in both what you say and what you do. You never know when things may come back around full circle and you will need something from that employer. The same goes for coworkers; choose your words and actions wisely. The same person you treat unkindly today may be the same person that makes the difference of you getting your dream job sometime down the road. Find a Mentor. While it can be someone in the electrical industry, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. I’ve had mentors within the industry and outside of it. You can learn from them what you should do, but also pay attention to what not to do. By watching one of my mentors, whom I still respect more than most people on this Earth, I learned about how important keeping a stable work/life balance is. Everyone must decide on a personal level what is best for them. Choose mentors who are candid and will openly share their mistakes with you so you can learn from them, not those that are interested in touting their accomplishments. Network, network – and when you’re done – network some more. As the old adage goes…it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. In my opinion, both are equally important and are often intertwined. My success in this industry has been a result of people that I have come to know who appreciate my knowledge and ability. Networking gives you an opportunity to meet people, learn from them, and promote your knowledge and ability. A conversation with a complete stranger could lead to a job opportunity down the road. Find ways to network within your industry. Treat everyone with respect and show them the best version of you. It will be well worth your time and effort. One of my favorite songs is Brad Paisley’s “Letter to Me.” The songwriter is looking back on life and writing a letter to his seventeen-year-old self as to all the things he should pay attention to that will impact his life, both good and bad. I guess you could say that the previous items I have mentioned are my personal Letter to Me. But I want to share it with all of you as you start out on your own path in the electrical trade. Not because I want you to not fail, for failure leads to growth and, ultimately, success. I am sharing these things with you to add tools to your arsenal that I didn’t have starting out. Package these with your personal drive and determination, and the sky is the limit! While the sun is closer to setting on my own career, I find much joy in watching the sun rise for others. You have picked an amazing career and industry; I wish you much success on all your horizons. The NFPA Student and Apprentice Membership is a FREE resource that provides students and electrical apprentices an opportunity to network with industry professionals, interact with peers, and receive discounts on NFPA products. Find out more by visiting the NFPA Student and Apprentice Membership website. For National Apprenticeship Week, use #NAW2021 on social media.
AFCI hero

AFCIs Tell a Life-Saving Story Worth Listening to About Home Electrical Safety

Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are electrical devices that are designed to sense an abnormal arcing condition within electrical wiring. Normal arcing conditions, such as a light switch being turned off or a plug being pulled from a receptacle, are permitted by the AFCI and will not open the device. In 1992, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an independent federal regulatory agency charged with protecting the public from unreasonable injury or death from consumer products, engaged Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in a study to help evaluate products and technology that would help reduce residential fires. During their research, UL identified “arcing faults” as a potential source of ignition that could lead to residential fires, therefore calling for development of a product that would be able to help reduce this potential in homes. In turn, manufacturers began research and development of a product that would meet this need. Many argue that AFCIs are just a means for manufacturers to increase profits. While the reality is that the cost for an AFCI is substantially higher than that of a standard breaker or device, it seems to be logical that could be attributed to AFCIs offering more protection and undertaking considerable research to develop and update the product. It is also important to keep in mind that the derivation of the need for manufacturers to create AFCIs came from a problem determined by UL research findings at the request of the CPSC trying to make homes safer for consumers, being less prone to fires.    After rigorous product testing by the UL, AFCIs were first introduced into the 1999 National Electrical Code® (NEC®) at which time they were initially only required in bedrooms. In the seven, three-year cycles that the NEC has underwent since 1999, AFCI requirements have been expanded to other areas of homes, such as kitchens, family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, hallways, closets, laundry areas, and similar areas. AFCI requirements within the NEC have even been expanded beyond the home to dormitories, hotel and motel guest rooms and suites, and patient sleeping rooms in nursing homes and limited-care facilities. As AFCI requirements continued to grow within the NEC, each change took place through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) consensus-based standards development process. Through this public process, proposed changes are accepted and reviewed by Code Making Panels (CMP’s) that are made up of individuals that represent inspectors, installers, testing laboratories, manufacturers, labor groups, and users – all with years of experience in the electrical industry. So, we now have a product that has been researched and developed to meet a CPSC request to reduce home fires. This product has been introduced into, and expanded throughout, the National Electrical Code by a consensus-based standards development process that accepts proposed changes (twice during the full process), which then gets thoroughly reviewed by a balanced group of industry experts, before any new code requirements are created. It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think that a product that has been fully vetted and implemented like AFCIs have would be well accepted. However, depending on who you are talking to, you may be wrong.    “AFCIs are such a nuisance!” If I only had a dollar for every time that I heard that phrase spoken to me by an installer or homeowner, I might be giving Jeff Bezos some competition. Being in the electrical industry for nearly 30 years, I have been there B.A. (before AFCIs) and D.A. (during AFCIs). As a master electrician, electrical contractor, apprenticeship instructor, and member of a state electrical board, I have many unique views that have led me to becoming a supporter of AFCI protection. Without question, in the early 2000’s, I remember how difficult it was to troubleshoot tripping AFCIs and learning to adapt my wiring methods, such as not sharing neutrals between circuits, to accommodate this change in the NEC. Let’s face it, change is hard to accept, as well as implement, and there was a lot of painstaking trial-and-error. But my mindset was always, if there was any chance that this new device would save someone’s life - it would be well worth the effort.    Through the years, between modifying the way that I wired homes and manufacturers continuously researching and improving the products, I found that I was spending less and less time troubleshooting what had become known in the industry as AFCI “nuisance tripping.” Merriam-Webster defines the word “nuisance” as a person, thing, or situation that is annoying or that causes trouble or problems. I won’t argue that taking the additional time to have to troubleshoot a tripping AFCI was annoying. But AFCIs were not causing problems – they were telling me there was a problem. Maybe it was my wiring, or an old vacuum that was plugged in with a frayed cord, but at the end of every troubleshooting session that I performed, it always concluded with the same result - I found a problem that needed to be addressed. A problem that left unattended to, could have caused a fire that may result in the loss of property or occupants within the home.   Some claim that AFCIs have not been proven to work and are therefore an unnecessary cost. What is unique to AFCIs, is that they tell you a problem exists that you may not be able to see. Maybe a nail from a picture that was recently hung penetrated a wire behind the wall that now causes the AFCI to trip. Some may get frustrated and blame the pesky AFCI that will not reset as the problem but clearer minds might label the new nail holding up the picture as the culprit. The AFCI is telling you something. Once the nail is found, all necessary repairs are made, the AFCI is reset, and the electrician drives off. Therein lies the problem as I see it for proving that AFCIs indeed work – how do you capture the data when they do their job? Smoke alarms are required to be installed in every home in the nation. But contrary to AFCIs, I have never heard one argument made that smoke alarms do not work. Unlike hidden arcing behind walls that trips an AFCI, smoke alarms detect something that is visual and can been seen. It is much easier to document data from a homeowner story of narrowly escaping a fire in their home because their smoke alarms woke them up and allowed them to get themselves out of harm’s way. For those who would argue the cost is too high for AFCIs to be installed, I would ask the question - what is the value of human life? If two hundred homes in a brand-new subdivision installed AFCI devices, and one life was saved, would it be worth it? What if it was your family member whose life was saved…worth it then?    From my perspective, there is no end game here. This is just the opinion of a master electrician with years of experience dealing with AFCIs from their introduction in the late 1990’s to present day. I have spent hours troubleshooting AFCI installations and have found that every AFCI that trips is telling you something. But are you willing to listen? While the initial task of troubleshooting may mean more work to determine the problem, the end result could be saving someone’s life. Even though the NEC requires AFCI protection, there are several states that have chosen to remove this requirement at the state level often due to special interest groups opposed to AFCIs, for the aforementioned reasons, lobbying the state legislature against them. The good news is that, although some states have chosen not to require AFCI protection, I am not aware of any states that do not permit AFCI installation. Meaning, even if your state does not require it, you still have the choice to install AFCI protection in homes. Data or no data, as an electrician, husband, father, and homeowner - that choice is easy for me to make. The choice is yours and much is at stake, please choose wisely.   This blog gives some of the history of AFCIs from their inception to present day but the AFCI story is still being written. The 2023 NEC cycle is in progress and proposed changes to AFCIs can be viewed by the public at the NEC next edition page.   For more information on arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCI’s) and their impact on helping to eliminate residential fires, please utilize our free download of “Residential Electrical Fire Problem: The Data Landscape”, a study performed by the Fire Protection Research Foundation.   Important Notice: Any opinion expressed in this blog is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the official position of the NFPA or its Technical Committees. In addition, this blog is neither intended, nor should be relied upon, to provide professional consultation or services. 
DIY projects

Five D.I.Y. Electrical Wiring Suggestions to Help Prevent Your Home from Going Up in Flames

It was one of those emails that just makes you cringe. Followed by a knot that just sits in the bottom of your stomach. A coworker had sent me yet another link to a major news publication’s Ask the “Expert” article. Only they didn’t put expert in quotes like I did. The publication really wanted the reader to believe that they were getting knowledgeable electrical advice from someone other than – an expert. While I am mostly certain that the intent was good, the advice unfortunately was not. Spending years in and around the construction trades does not make someone an expert in all areas construction. Being a master electrician with nearly 30 years of experience working alongside other trades does not provide me with the knowledge necessary to tell someone how to frame the structure of their home. I know many do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) homeowners reach out to others for advice and something branded as getting answers from an expert certainly seems appealing, but electricity and errors don’t mix. When it comes to electrical installations, even one small error can set ablaze an inferno of devastating consequences. With this week being Fire Prevention Week, it seems like the perfect time to discuss why proper electrical wiring is so crucial to preventing fires in the home. In March 2019, NFPA conducted a research study analyzing home electrical fires on data captured between 2012-2016. One of the key findings from the study stated, “Home fires involving electrical failure or malfunction caused an estimated average of 440 civilian deaths and 1,250 civilian injuries each year in 2012-2016, as well as an estimated $1.3 billion in direct property damage a year.” When you look at this statistic knowing that people and property are likely the things you hold most dear, it would seem self-performing electrical wiring may pose too great of a risk. However, many still choose to take on that risk often based on the premise of saving money. But when it comes to protecting your family and possessions, money should not be the only determining factor. Getting the job done properly and safely needs to weigh heavily into the equation. Electricians spend years learning code requirements and the skills needed to perform installations in order to meet those code requirements. They are also required to take continuing education classes to keep up on current codes as a condition for license renewal. Without getting too Liam Neeson on you here, they have a special set of skills that they have acquired over the course of their careers that enable them to do the job properly. Skills that cannot be gathered from reading a how-to book or getting your questions answered from an Ask the “Expert” column in a periodical.   I will pose this question: would you let your closest loved one be operated on by a doctor who had never performed their residency? If your answer was “no,” then how can wiring a home without the skills acquired during a 4 to 5-year electrical apprenticeship be justifiable. Also considering that there are likely to be many more lives at stake when wiring a home versus a single person undergoing a surgery, it could be argued that doing so would be unfathomable. Yet it happens every day, many times over, by homeowners that choose to take that risk. This is not a sales pitch to ensure that electricians get all of the work, either. There is more work available in the foreseeable future than there are electricians to complete the work. My plea is solely based on safety and for homeowners to see, and fully consider, the immeasurable amount of risk they are applying to themselves, their families, and their possessions by performing electrical work that they are not properly trained for. And while I know I won’t be able to prevent everyone from performing their own electrical work, I can offer the following suggestions to help mitigate some of the risk: Hire an electrician. One last attempt here, because it is that important. Electricians have been specifically trained in code requirements and possess the skills necessary to perform a code compliant installation. If you still choose to perform your own work, you can always come back to this advice. At any point you feel you are too far over your head, you can always throw in the towel and call an electrician to ensure the job gets done properly. Don’t assume just because it works, that it is safe. Just because you performed the work and the light comes on, does not mean that the installation was done properly. Maybe the wire that runs from the light switch to the light fixture has a small nick in it where a staple was installed that pinched the wire too much. Now the area where the wire is pinched is starting to arc behind the wall where it can’t be seen and is coming close to igniting the paper backing on the insulation in the wall next to it. I have been on countless service calls in my years as an electrician where, after fixing the problem(s), I left the home wondering how it hadn’t gone up in flames. Follow the latest version of the National Electrical Code® (NEC®). Updates are made to the NEC on a 3-year cycle. As of the date of this blog, the 2020 NEC is the most current version with the 2023 NEC to be published sometime in the Fall of 2022. In some local jurisdictions, they do not use the most current version of the NEC. In some cases, jurisdictions will eliminate some parts of the NEC from being enforced. Often this happens at the urging of special interest groups that are not necessarily looking out for the safety of the consumer, but more so the bottom-line dollar value. For example, some states have removed the arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) requirements for specified areas of the home. Know that, regardless of the code cycle your local area is on and what may have been excluded, the NEC is the minimum requirement, and you can always do more. So, if you read up on the safety that AFCI protection provides and decide you want to install them in your home, by all means do so. Pull permits and get inspections. Electrical inspectors, also known as the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), are the final checks-and-balances piece for ensuring electrical safety regardless of who performed the work. They are the last line of defense for homeowners as to whether or not their home is safe from an electrical standpoint. While many D.I.Y. projects often go without the proper permits being pulled and inspection being performed, electrical is most definitely not an area where you want to go this route. It is also against the law and can result in heavy fines should you get caught. Not to mention the additional assumed risk you are taking by possibly having an insurance claim denied due to a negligence clause, should your home catch on fire or someone becomes injured due to improper electrical wiring, and no inspections were performed. Ask a REAL expert. If you are going to do the work yourself and seek out the answers to your questions, find a real expert to give you accurate answers. I have found often that electrical inspectors are more than willing to answer questions on how to perform an installation before actual work gets done. That can save on the costly expense of additional labor and materials associated with redoing the same job twice. Asking around, you may also find an electrical contractor who is willing to perform a service call to check your work and give you advice. The point is, whomever you choose to seek out for the answers to your questions, make sure he/she is an electrically knowledgeable source. When it comes to electrical installations, there is little room for error. While we all must make personal decisions as to the amount of risk we want to assume, we also have the ability to seek out the information needed to help manage any assumed risk. Although homeowners are often legally allowed to do their own electrical work, hiring a licensed electrician to do the work would be the best choice to mitigate risk. If they still choose to do the work themselves, it can be better managed by understanding the current code requirements and seeking out any advice needed from credible sources. With people and property involved and so much weighing on a proper electrical installation, it is crucial to get it right. To err is human but electricity does not know forgiveness. Important Notice: Any opinion expressed in this correspondence is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the official position of the NFPA or its Technical Committees. In addition, this correspondence is neither intended, nor should it be relied upon, to provide professional consultation or services.
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